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City imposes cap on non-owner-occupied short-term rentals

By Stephen Betts | Feb 12, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts

Rockland — A divided Rockland City Council gave final approval Monday night, Feb. 12, to imposing a temporary cap on non-owner-occupied short-term rentals.

The vote was 3-2, which reflected the sentiments of speakers, who also were divided on the cap. Mayor Valli Geiger and Councilors Ed Glaser and Amelia Magjik voted for the cap, while Councilors Adam Ackor and Lisa Westkaemper voted against the measure.

The ordinance that was given final approval sets the maximum number of non-owner-occupied short-term rentals at 45. There are currently 33 that have either been approved or applications submitted.

Geiger said after the vote that she expected the cap would be in place for a year to allow the city time to review the overall short-term rental regulations and look to see if it can be amended to set limits by neighborhood.

Glaser said this was only a pause and not an indefinite limit.

Non-owner-occupied short-term rental owners have until April 15 this year to file for their annual renewals. New applications will be accepted after that time until the cap of 45 is reached.

In subsequent years, the deadline to file for annual renewals will be March 15. New applications will be accepted after March 15.

Cheryl Michaelsen, owner of the Berry Manor Inn, urged councilors to support the cap. She said to do nothing could lead to irrevocable harm.

"Protect our neighborhoods, protect our community," she said.

Supporters of the cap said the increase in short-term rentals was taking away residences for long-term renters and those seeking to buy homes. Geiger said some neighborhoods were going dark in the winter because of the number of seasonal short-term rentals.

Westkaemper said the cap was more a line in the sand than a thoughtful approach.

"Rockland is a big festival community. We encourage people to come here. They need a place to stay," Westkaemper said.

She said a cap might be necessary, but it should be done in a comprehensive way.

Ackor said he was strongly opposed to the cap.

He said owners of short-term rentals spend a lot of money to restore homes and employ local contractors and property managers. He said these homes are also well maintained. The cap was arbitrary, he said.

Fletcher Smith, owner of vacation rental business SummerMaine, said the cap was arbitrary and would not make a dent on the affordable housing front. She said many people buy homes and rent them out on a short-term basis so they can eventually afford to move to Rockland and live in the properties.

Michael Mullins, who rents the house adjacent to the quarry on Cedar Street, said the cap would discourage investment in Rockland housing.

In other action Monday night, the council voted 3-2 (Ackor, Westkaemper opposed) to give initial approval to imposing a $5,000 fine on the owners of non-owner-occupied properties that are rented out on a short-term basis without a permit.

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Comments (8)
Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Feb 17, 2018 10:45

The availability of affordable rents is tied to the economy. This is a national problem - not just a local dilemma. Focusing on short-term rentals does not address the exponential disparity in Americans' income and the huge national problem of affordable housing.

City council would do well to provide its constituents with actual researched data vs. anecdotal "information" on this local issue.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Feb 17, 2018 08:54

If you don't find reasonable housing Fisher's will be gone within five years. Any bets?


Posted by: Jon Koski | Feb 16, 2018 17:53

Mr Mullins raises some valid concerns.  All property owner should be concerned what will happen to their property values if this passes. If property values do decline the mil rate will have to be raised because there will be a shortfall.  The owners of these short term rental properties are a benefit to the city because they pay taxes, employ people year round, and support local merchants.  The money spent by the good people who utilize these rentals goes without saying.  It really boils down to supply and demand.  If tourist cannot find accommodations they will go elsewhere.  If one owns a short term rental and they cannot rent it they will sell it.  Let the market dictate what it can support.

Posted by: Michael Mullins | Feb 15, 2018 20:35

One matter for residents of Rockland to consider is that anytime there is a buyer, there is a seller.  The sellers are people who own property in Rockland, and in some cases for a very long time.

Ms. Files posted some very good comments above about the requirements of companies like Fisher, whom reports (per Ms. Files) that it can't find employees because they can't afford housing in the City.

The question here, is who should bear the burden of this?  Does a long-time resident of Rockland, perhaps ready to downsize and retire have to accept $5,000 less on the sale of their home so that Fisher can save money on new hires (by paying them less)?

The problem, and moral hazard, of placing the burdens that belong to companies like Fisher onto the back of homeowners is that those homeowners aren't responsible for the wages Fisher is or is not willing to pay.  On the contrary, most Rockland homeowners have been with the city through the ups and downs. If there is a strong market for houses in this great city, perhaps those property owners should be able to sell it for the best price they are able to.  I am sympathetic to long time property owners who have taken care of their homes, and paid a good amount of taxes all the years they owned it.

In terms of the public discussion on rentals, what's missing is data.  According to the Code Office, there are 60 short term rentals, of which I recall, 27 are owner occupied.  Of the 33 that are not, that is by a back of the envelope estimate, less that 1% of the housing stock in Rockland.  Is 1% of the housing stock used for Vacation Rentals excessive?  I don't know.  I would like to know more about the situation.  For example, how many housing units are there in Rockland?  How many are rentals?  how many are vacation rentals?  At present, the City does not know.

Posted by: Amy Files | Feb 13, 2018 11:28

I am proud to see our Council stand tall on this and stick up for the people who live here. We have a lot of tourism already in this City -- what we need is balance and jobs that are year-round and higher paid (ie. not all focused on hospitality/service industries). People will still come here -- our inns aren't at capacity all year long --  but what is at capacity is the availability of year-round housing. That people can't find year-round housing is negatively impacting our businesses -- Fisher is reporting that employees can't find housing -- the Penbayl can't bring new nurses/doctors here because they can't find housing. If Rockland wants to maintain a year-round community -- and not just turn into a tourist town -- we need to make sure that there are homes and apartments for people to live here year-round. The fact that people are purchasing up our property from out-of-town to short-term rent them in the summer is undeniable... residents and workers can find winter housing only to be kicked out in the spring. This cap is a stop-gap -- to put a hold on the trend we see of outside investors snatching up our housing stock -- removing year-round units as well as driving up the cost of homes so that regular working Rocklanders can't afford to buy a home in their own City. If we find out that short-term rentals aren't a real issue or if we can find other solutions -- we can easily lift the cap. But if we don't do something now -- there's no going back and saving the housing stock we lose.

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Feb 13, 2018 09:46

The majority of the council appears to have caved to pressure from local inn owners, who are afraid of competition from short-term rentals, which are far less expensive than Rockland's inns. This is especially true for families visiting our town. Our inns do not accommodate young families.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Feb 13, 2018 08:23

The face and feel of this city is changing. We see it in the harbour and on main Street. This is an unstoppable tide. We want to welcome visitors then tell them they can't stay here. Adam is right, people want to invest here, isn't that what we want ? While we pause other towns proceed. We need to be proactive not inactive

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Feb 13, 2018 07:13

The neighborhood should suffer so a contractor and a rental manager can make a few bucks ? The residents of Rockland should be the first consideration of the council not tourists and a handful of contractors and property managers.

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